It’s a cold, wintry Thursday night outside a Starbucks in Lake Forest, California. The outside lounge area is desolate, abandoned coffee cups resting on the tables like long forgotten totems. It’s 50 degrees – give or take – but to us Californians, that clearly means hypothermia and everyone disappeared as soon as the thermometer dropped to 60.
All the members of the Orange County, CA alternative rock trio, Armors (pianist Sam Beresford, bassist Kody Buxton, and lead vocalist/drummer Olen Kittelsen), are gathered inside sipping on coffee and tea for warmth. As a band, they’re approximately one year old and have just finished band practice at a rehearsal studio just a few miles down the street. They’re gearing up for their EP release show and, for a band that is preparing for their biggest show to date, they are calm, humble and down-to-earth. But there’s an excitement buzzing around them that is hard to ignore.
On December 4th, Armors released their Collisions EP and will celebrate it properly on January 2nd at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana at a KROQ Locals Only show with Dark Waves and Kid Cadaver also on the bill. As we sit down, we decide it’s much too loud inside the coffee joint for conversation but it’s also too cold outside (again, the California curse). We finally resolve to relocate to Sam’s new car, but on one condition: That he blasts the heater. With our hands gathered around the air vents like castaways around a makeshift campfire, we get down to business…
High Voltage: How has being in a band and working as professional musicians changed your daily lives?
Kody: Armors formed in January of 2015 and it’s been pretty life changing switching gears into a full time band. Sam was previously attending UCSB [University of California, Santa Barbara] and Olen was attending Pepperdine, and they’ve since departed from college. At times it’s definitely a grind, but I think it’s a worthwhile investment; it’s been a pretty solid year for us.
High Voltage: How has being in different cities and different cultures influenced your new sound?
Olen: Last year, before we started being super serious about Armors and making it our lives, Sam would drive down every weekend from Santa Barbara, grab me in Malibu, and we’d meet in Orange County. Sometimes Kody would have to come up to Los Angeles to meet up with us. That was every weekend. Sam and I didn’t really have a freshman year of college. It was a crazy experience, so it’s good to be in one place right now and just be a band.
Kody: Now we’re centralized. Sam grew up in Irvine and Olen grew up in Lake Forest, while I grew up in Torrance.
Olen: Kody comes from a hip-hop background. We have written a lot of lyrics together with those influences and we’ve blended our styles. It has even pushed the way I sing into that direction. It’s definitely contributed to the sound that is Armors.
High Voltage: Your lyrics seem like they have specific, drawn-from-life stories behind them. Can you tell us about the lyric-writing process?
Kody: “Aubrey” is pretty much based on an ex-girlfriend of mine. Her name wasn’t Aubrey. Fun fact: the song’s named after Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation. I’m in love with Aubrey Plaza. She’s just a really down-to-earth girl who is not afraid to be herself, so I’ve always been a fan of her identity.
“Aubrey” is basically a story about falling in love with something that was really appealing on the aesthetic side and when you come to find there’s really no moral substance there, it’s not what you’re truly looking for. I think a lot of people can understand that, and it was a message that needed to be put out, eventually. Aubrey just ended up being the song.
High Voltage: These days, artists tend to listen to much more than just the music within their genres. What bands and individual musicians have helped you develop as artists?
Olen: This is going to be a crazy question.
Sam: My biggest influences are Death Cab for Cutie and the Wombats. I also really admire Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park. He’s awesome; he plays piano, he’s a producer, he raps. He does everything.
Kody: I’m heavily influenced from really old timey stuff like Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, other soul singers. I’m also influenced by the underground hip-hop scene including Aesop Rock and the idea of the atmospheric vibes of the genre.
Olen: When I was just learning to play drums, I listened to a lot of punk music. I also listened to bands like Motion City Soundtrack. Their drummer, Tony Thaxton, inspired me to play hard on every song and to put your all into your instrument. That’s something that I’ve tried to incorporate when I play: to just leave it all out there on the stage. There’s a lot of energy in that music. That was during the early-to-mid 2000s…
Sam: That was a long time ago.
Kody: Yeah, I know, right?
Sam: Back in my day…
Olen: Back in my day. As far as vocally, I’ve been influenced by hymns. I used to sing in choir at church, and it’s really shaped the way that I sing and even make melodies.
High Voltage: Your songs have many different influences and sonic atmospheres to them. Where do the ideas come from and how are they developed into songs?
Kody: The ideas come from the melting pot. Typically, Sam’s the only person in the band with any real knowledge of music theory, so he knows what chords go together. He’s great at it. He comes up with these pretty awesome progressions and, a lot of times, he’ll define the basis of a song. Olen’s quick with melody. He just scats over tracks with random words and it’s beautiful. I end up writing freestyle raps to his melodies and that’s our main formula. However, it’s a different dynamic every time. Sometimes Olen will just walk in with a drumbeat and start singing or tell us to play a note and we’ll just go off that. It’s pretty spontaneous.
Olen: We discovered we write our best songs when we’re really spontaneous about them and not trying too hard.
Kody: Exactly. It’s the five-minute songs where we all think, “Wow, that is kind of cool, we should probably record that!” The iPhone demos ensue.
Olen: So many iPhone demos. My phone is always impacted with ideas.
Kody: It’s like a well-oiled machine when we do that. Sam normally keeps us grounded in theory when those moments happen so we don’t get too abstract. I feel like a lot of times when you write songs and they’re quick, they represent a straw house and when you take them to the studio, you tear it down and build it out of brick and mortar. You get the foundation there and you start building it up when you can take a really hard look at it and figure out the core elements. It was nice to have a chance to do that with these new songs.
Olen: For our new EP, Collisions, it was the first time where we got to sit down and break the songs apart. The songwriting process didn’t happen the same way twice for almost anything. “Aubrey” was something Kody had been working on for a really long time. “Catastrophic” was an idea we came up with really quickly and finished all in one night. “Parasite” was something where we blended lyrics with a chorus we’d been vibing on. Adam Castilla from The Colourist produced the majority of our EP, and “Catastrophic” was co-produced by Adam and Sam Lee from Magic Man.
High Voltage: What do you hope listeners will be able to take away after hearing your new tunes?
Kody: I think the EP is all-encompassing. There’s something on there for everybody. That’s really what we were after without knowing it. We wanted to write something cohesive while having the songs be unique in their own right. There’s a story for everybody in each song and we hope anyone can listen to it and find something they like. When writing a song, I’ve always felt it’s important to let people figure out what the meaning is for themselves because everyone reads a book differently.
High Voltage: Your EP release show is coming up on January 2nd at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana: What are you guys doing to prepare, and what should your audience expect?
Sam: Disappointment. They’ll all leave crying…
Kody: We’re definitely going to be showing off the EP that we finally have out, and when everyone knows the words to the songs, it’ll be awesome. We always try to include a few surprises in our live shows to keep it fresh. We have so many dedicated fans that come to every show that we always feel challenged to impress them time after time.